The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning

What do Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Thomas Jefferson, and David Ben-Gurion have in common? More than we might think, according to a remarkable new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art about, of all things, a sixth-century BC Babylonian text praising Cyrus the Great.

On loan from the British Museum, the so-called Cyrus cylinder commemorates the Persian king’s magnanimity toward the locals and their gods after his conquest of Babylon—reinforcing classical and Biblical accounts of Cyrus as the enlightened monarch who brought justice to benighted lands and allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem. And while this has given Iran’s most distinguished conqueror an exceptional following among Zionists and democrats, it hasn’t hurt his reputation in Tehran either, where the Cyrus Cylinder has already made repeat visits under the Shah (1971) and now the Islamic Republic (2010). British Museum director Neil MacGregor hopes to lend it someday to Jerusalem as well. Could this 2,600-year-old chunk of cuneiform-inscribed clay solve the riddle of Middle-East peace?

“The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning,” is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through August 4. It will later travel to San Francisco and Los Angeles. For more information, please visit

Category: Exhibition
Metropolitan Museum of Art
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